We Need to Stop Damaging Women

We need to stop damaging women

We need to collectively and intentionally create a set of expectations for the treatment of women by men and by society in every setting that makes life consistently and appropriately safe, accepting, inclusive, respectful, supportive, and enabling at multiple levels for women.

The news media is currently full of stories about men in power doing abusive things to women. It is more than a little misleading to call those stories “news” because there is nothing new about men doing damaging things to women. We have a very long history as a nation and as a society of discriminating against women in a wide variety of ways — and our collective history contains many layers of behaviors that have done damaging, disrespectful, intrusive and sexually and physically abusive things to women.

Negative societal behavior toward women is not new. Women were not even allowed to vote until relatively recently in our history. Women have been discriminated against legally, politically, functionally, and economically at multiple levels for as far back into history as we have records of our collective behaviors.

Our laws now make explicit discrimination against women in most areas illegal — but those laws are relatively new, and they have clearly not ended gender based discrimination or abuse. We are currently seeing a growing array of media based evidence for both sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women by a number of men in very current settings, and it is clear those stories are just the tip of an iceberg, rather than a full account or complete exposure of the inappropriate gender related behaviors.

Our news media is now heavily represented by the presence of a growing number of women journalists — so the current generation of those abuse stories is getting a higher level of both energy and insight than we’ve seen in earlier years when stories of abuse were primarily reported and presented by men.

What we are seeing in those stories today are men in power in a number of settings exhibiting clearly unwanted abusive and intrusive sexual behaviors toward far too many women.

The consistent pattern has been that men in power have felt sexual attraction to women, and the women in those settings have had less positional power, and felt forced into situations and behaviors that made their lives unpleasant, situationally dysfunctional, and sometimes both damaging and dangerous for their physical and mental well being.

A growing parade of famous and powerful men has recently been publically exposed for damaging behaviors.

The emergence of stories of sexual abuse by people in positions of power has given us an invaluable opportunity as a country to make some enlightened and functionally useful decisions about how we want people from both genders and every gender-related alignment to be treated in our society and in our nation going forward from this point in time.

It would be a huge mistake at this point in our history not to understand what is causing all of those negative and damaging behaviors to occur, and it would be a huge mistake not to create and implement an approach that puts us on a far better path for future gender related behaviors.

Instinctive behaviors are clearly relevant to both the gender related problems we face and the solution sets we need to create to help us overcome those problems, and create a world where gender related damage does not occur.

Any time we see a pattern of behavior that extends across all groups and settings, we know with a high level of certainty and comfort that there are instincts involved in shaping those behaviors. Instincts are the only functional causality mechanism that extends into every human setting.

Our basic behavior pattern is to let our instincts set our general direction and goals — and then we use our cultures in every setting to help our instincts achieve their goals.

We have hierarchical instincts, for example, so people in every setting invent hierarchies. We have kings, chiefs, captains, presidents, and popes — and the people in each hierarchy tend to feel right supporting their hierarchy and being directed by the hierarchy each person is in. We can be very creative in inventing hierarchies — with the common pattern being that we build one for every group, and we have the same basic components performing similar functions in each one.

Similarly, our cultures help us achieve our basic turf instincts in very creative ways. We have basic turf instincts, so every setting invents property definitions, boundaries, and turf ownership rules.

We feel instinctively drawn to protect the boundaries we create, and people are sometimes willing to die to protect their family, clan, or even their national boundary and turf.

We follow similar patterns with all of our instincts. We invent cultures to achieve our basic patterns of instinctive behavior. Our intellect generally functions as the servant of both our instincts and our cultures in each setting — and our intellect works to help both cultures and instincts achieve their goals.

We have over a dozen macro instincts working together in each setting to shape the culture. Our instinctive behaviors also shape and influence our interactions with each other as both individuals and groups. Our history is the story of those interactions over time — and we can predict future behavior with a high degree of accuracy in a number of settings for a number of issues simply by looking at the situations each settings face, and the likely reaction our instincts will have.

We all know the basic packages. We have maternal instincts, acquisition instincts, and tribal instincts. We have very powerful loyalty instincts that cause us to hate traitors, to feel unconditional loyalty toward our own group, and to never betray our perceived leaders.

Our basic approach to life tends to include feeling right when our behaviors and situations are aligned with our instincts and cultures — but then inversely tends to include feeling stress, anxiety, discomfort, and negative emotional responses when our situation or behaviors are out of alignment with out cultures or our instincts.

A mother with a young child, for example, often has a strong instinctive sense of stress and unhappiness when her child is either not safe or is simply not present. That sense of stress tends to continue to exist at both conscious and unconscious levels, until the mother and child are reunited, and the mother knows the child is safe.

Many of our instincts guide our interactions with one another. Sexual instincts have particular power to shape our behaviors, interactions, thought processes, emotions, and behaviors when activated.

Several sets of instincts relating to gender interactions are particularly relevant to the gender abuse situations present in too many settings today. We have a wide set of gender related behaviors. Sexual attraction has obvious instinctive underpinnings for us, and that reality exists for nearly every species bearing male and female reproductive components and functions.

Sex exists to further procreation. We need to reproduce to survive — so we have packages of instincts supporting and enabling sexual interactions, creating situations and processes that produce children, and then foster both individual and group behaviors that help those children survive.

The patterns of behaviors created by those packages of instincts are obvious in both their existence and function once we recognize them for what they are. We have courting instincts in every culture on the planet. Flirting and various interactions that encourage positive romantic connectivity tend to be universal behaviors in every setting and culture.

All cultures set up courting rules and processes, and all cultures invent various ways of connecting people into marriage-like relationships that serve as the underpinnings for family survival in our most primal settings.

Wedding rituals are among our most creative areas of cultural expression. Some cultures build extremely elaborate wedding ceremonies that continue for days.

In China, the cost of a child’s wedding is the second leading cause of financial failure.

In the best of settings, the processes of courtship create a family of some kind that both produces and protects children. Cultures tend to invent roles for both men and women intended to help families succeed and children survive. Those roles look similar across cultures. Throughout history, each member of the family tends to perform their culturally assigned job aimed at helping the children survive.

At one point in our collective past, those roles were extremely important. Survival was dependent on each person performing their assigned roles — and performing them well.

The various hunter/gatherer roles and expectations — and gender related alignments and work assignments that were embedded in many traditional cultures were very clear — and those traditional roles are much less relevant to us today because we now live in an economic system where people have jobs, rather than roles.

We need to invent cultures and roles that support the economic survival realities of today; not the gender assigned roles of our prior collective history. That calls for a different set of cultural expectations, and a decoupling of gender from many of those roles. The jobs that exist today are now open to people from each gender. We no longer live in cultures where hunters are the primary source of food for a family, so some of the roles assigned to men in those times are no longer gender linked, and may not even exist at all.

Jobs have replaced both hunting and gathering as survival essentials for families.

Most adults have jobs in our world today, and those jobs create income streams people need to feed their children and to sustain their lives.

We decided as an American culture slightly more than half a century ago to make all jobs available to people from all groups — male or female.

We also passed some very enlightened and inclusive laws forbidding discrimination in both hiring and job assignments based on gender, gender preference, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or any other group differentiation.

Laws enabling inclusion are models for the world, and they create extremely accessible levels of potential inclusion for everyone.

Those were not easy laws to pass. We are not inherently inclusive. We have very strong instincts to divide the world into Us and Them, and to act very differently toward both Us and Them.

Three of the InterGroup books deal extensively with those instincts, their history, and their impact on our lives. The Us/Them instincts are extremely powerful and influential for our behavior. There are more than 200 ethnic wars going on in the world today — fueled and powered by those particular instinct packages.

We need to understand those instincts to keep those wars from happening, and to help them end. If we don’t know what they are and how they screw our emotions and thoughts, they can dominate our lives.

The InterGroup books directly and clearly explain why we need to work hard in each setting to create an inclusive sense of Us.

Similarly, our gender related instincts can point us to patterns of behavior that are damaging to women — and they can support us in working toward approaches and strategies that create a better sense of inclusion and opportunity for both men and women in each and every setting

Sex is key to those strategies. Sexual attraction is a powerful instinctive behavior. People can feel sexual attraction toward other people, with gender generally shaping the attraction process. Most people are attracted to the opposite sex — but a significant minority feels sexually attracted to the same sex.

Both sets of attractions are inherent to the sexual composition of each person. Each person has tendencies that can result in sex being an important part of life. Sexual activity can be a blessing and a major benefit for both health and well-being for an individual — so setting up circumstances and processes that make sexual activity possible can be a very good thing to do.

If we want sex to be a positive thing for everyone, we need to minimize its negative aspects and support its positive aspects. Consent is the key for supporting a positive sexual context. Only consensual sexual activity should be supported, reinforced, or allowed by our cultures, our society, and our laws.

Forced sex is a bad and unacceptable thing.

Rape is a horrible thing.

Pedophilia is a horrible thing.

Any activities that force people into unwanted sexual activities or behaviors are wrong and unacceptable.

That issue is particularly relevant for us as a country right now, because we face a situation today where a number of men in positions of power have forced women into sexual activities against their will. That is wrong. It makes sex negative instead of positive. We need to create clear expectations on those issues so the likelihood of similar heinous events occurring in the future is significantly diminished.

We need to be very clear about the fact that men — in a number of settings who enjoyed positional power as an employer, a political leader, or authority figure — have coerced and forced women, or even other men, into nonconsensual sexual activities.

This is not uniquely a heterosexual problem. It is also true that we have cases and situations where, people whose sexual identity is homosexual, or other levels of sexual identity, who have also perpetuated various kinds of abusive behaviors.

Those behaviors are wrong for people from every sexual identity and every gender alignment.

There are other instinctive behaviors relevant for those involved. Our cultures have a long history of men in Alpha positions enjoying higher levels of sexual activity — with men in power taking multiple wives, and imposing themselves sexually on various women in their hierarchy or chain of command.

That particular pattern of Alpha male behavior has parallels in lion prides, wolf packs, and herds of both horses and deer. Those Alpha male behaviors make sense for a pack of wolves or a pride of lions, but they make absolutely no sense for a cluster of people — and those behaviors also should not be allowed.

The InterGroup books look at the full range of behaviors and expectations that can result from the activation of Alpha instincts.

Alpha instincts in people tend to exacerbate turf wars and tribal conflicts — and they can energize various divisive political and religious alignments. Damage occurs in those settings with those sets of intergroup alignment factors without adding sexual abuse to the behavior package.

Cultures are key to guiding thoughts and behaviors in all of those settings. People tend to believe in their values of their culture — and we tend to internalize our own culture’s values — so the solution process for our sexual abuse and sexual coercion problems need to be embedded in our cultures as well as our laws.

We need to be very clear as a people, a nation, and a culture that coercion is not allowed for sexual interactions.

We need our laws to support that set of values, and we need to teach and preach those behaviors to all people in our society and settings.

When we feel sexually attracted to another person, we need to make it completely unacceptable to use positional power or any other set of coercive influences to force that other person to act in any sex related way.

People will always feel sexual attraction. Feeling sexual attraction can be a very good thing. Entering into a consensual sexual relationship can be a wonderful thing to do. Better health and better states of mind can result from those relationships and activities.

We just need to be very clear at every level that those interactions need to be consensual. When we embed that set of values into our laws, cultures, and behavioral expectations, people learning those expectations will feel fine with them and behavior will change to match those expectations.

Expectations can be extremely situational. Even in settings as basic as lion prides and wolf packs, the Beta males in each setting understand they are not allowed Alpha level access to the females in their group — and they continue to stay with the pack or pride because their Beta expectations are being met.

Most unhappiness is the result of unmet expectations. We need to manage expectations as part of our strategy to achieve collective and individual happiness. Managing the expectations of both men and women in power relative to sexual activity is entirely possible because we have that set of behaviors as part of the array we are all capable of using.

We need to understand the full continuum of sexual instincts so we can channel sexual behavior today in ways that create the right world and life experience for both men and women relative to gender related behaviors. We need to deeply fear the incident and situation-provoked sexual instincts we clearly have for both individual rape and gang rape as one key focus area, and we need to make sure we set up processes, behaviors, and safeguards to keep those sets of instinctive behaviors from being relevant and triggered in any of our settings.

The horrible and sad truth is that gang rape occurs in the world today. Gang rape occurs at a much higher frequency when we have our Us/Them instincts in gear at the group, racial, or tribal level — and one group has already dehumanized the other group as being Them.

Rape as an act of intergroup war has occurred since the dawn of history in far too many settings. There are horror stories from Bosnia and Burma that are so terrible they are hard to believe. More recently, Kosovo, Sudan, The Congo, Syria, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia have all reported horrifying sexual abuse stories.

Rape seems to occur in settings where restrictions against it are not enforced. The default level of percentages of men who decide to rape women when the penalties are low or non-existent is horrifyingly high.

Fiji is a setting where law enforcement relative to those issues is not high right now. Pure violence against women in Fiji is currently so prevalent that more than an estimated 60 percent of the women there have been physically or sexually abused.

Likewise — the rape laws in sections of South Africa are loosely enforced. There are some areas in South Africa where rape laws are weakly enforced and everyone there knows what those restrictions and enforcement practices are. More than 40 percent of adult women in some of those areas report having been raped at least once.

More than a third of the women in Lesotho report having been raped by the time they are 18. And one-third of the adult women in Ethiopia report having been raped within the past year.

There are some settings in the world where women can be raped and the local laws do not allow women a voice or any consideration in court. Women in those settings need the testimony of at least one man or two other highly-regarded women to even make the official claim that she has been raped.

All of the historic patterns of discrimination against women come into play and are echoed today in those settings and situations. We need to be very honest with ourselves about what that data tells us about men and instinctive patterns of behavior that will not disappear or become irrelevant simply because we wish they were not true.

When we look at actual information and data from multiple settings, it is absolutely clear that even though most men are far too moral, good hearted, ethical, and considerate to rape anyone, there is a significant and persistent subset of men who are far too likely to commit rape if the circumstances allow them to, without being punished.

It is not only women who are raped. The Guardian reported that guards have raped a majority of men in some POW camps.

Roughly 9 percent of total rape victims in the U.S. are men — and studies show that men comprise 99 percent of rapists.

Those facts need to be understood and not ignored or swept in non-courageous ways under any public and policy level discussion rugs. We need to understand that incredibly ugly and sad reality for what it is, and we need to do what we need to do at the functional and intentional level to stop sexually abusive behaviors in our country.

Four Safeguards Against Rape

At the basic functional level, we have four safeguards against rape.

One safeguard is ethical behavior and basic decency — with most men making the personal ethical decision that rape is not the right thing to do, and then simply not raping anyone.

The second protection against rape is cultural — and that protection is based on people from one culture telling each other and convincing each other that rape is wrong and evil.

The third protection against rape is legal — the law — with governing bodies in each setting creating laws against rape and taking steps to punish anyone who commits rape.

The fourth protection is retribution — with male (and sometimes female) members of a rape victim’s family or community seeking revenge.

In some of the countries with the highest levels of rapes today, retribution is the only protection some women have.

For us as a society today, we need to use all four of those safeguards against both rape and sexual abuse, and we need to use them intentionally, explicitly, and well.

These issues are clearly relevant to us as a society today. The most recent news stories about sexually abusive men in power are extremely important for us to understand — and we need to also understand that those stories are just the tip of the iceberg.

We have very good laws in our communities against both rape and sexual abuse, and we have some fairly good laws against sexual discrimination, but even though those laws move us in the right direction, we have a long way to go.

We still have levels of sexual abuse in our work place in a number of settings — with our tech industry, our financial investment industry, our entertainment industries, and our service industries each reporting particularly high levels of abuse.

Those heinous behaviors even extend to settings where our women have weapons, with somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the women in our military settings reporting that they have faced sexual abuse in military settings — that we now know has included rape for thousands of women in the military.

Rapists in those settings clearly feel impervious to consequences. We know that to be true because people who believe they will be punished for their actions act with different behavior patterns than those who will not be punished.

The horrible numbers we are seeing today in South Africa, Fiji, New Guinea, Indonesia, the Congo, and Ethiopia all very clearly show us how far down the road to terrible behavior societies can fall when legal enforcement and culture do not make rape a bad and self-damaging decision for rapists.

Wishful thinking or politically correct avoidance of those issues will not help us move to the next level of progress on our gender issues. We need to be very honest with ourselves about the fact that men have some unfortunate patterns of instinctive behavior that can be damaging to other people when those instincts are activated and enabled.

We also know that those behaviors are not inevitable, and those particular instincts do not need to be activated in individual men. Men can clearly be channeled away from those most damaging and unenlightened behaviors with a combination of ethical teaching, values training, cultural guidance, societal pressure, and strict and clear enforcement of anti-abuse rules, laws, guidelines, and regulations.

We can’t expect to achieve our goals without taking steps to make them happen. It is very clear that the default position and the gender related values and behavior for men in settings where those constraints and guidances do not exist are very bad for far too many men in those settings.

We need to acknowledge the risk we face on gender related issues if we do not act in very intentional ways to reduce that risk. We need to understand the danger and we need to manage the expectations and behaviors of both men and women for gender related interactions in all settings.

We need to make it very clear that people in power are not entitled to expect sexual favors, interactions or even preferences as a result of their power.

Women need to know and understand that if they are being intimidated, forced, or coerced in any sexual way, that society expects and supports them in speaking up and both rejecting and pointing out the vile and damaging behaviors to other people in each setting.

For the most recent celebrity abuse cases, the high likelihood for most of those situations is that the male abusers felt attracted to the women who were affected, and the men did the sexually coercive things they did to further their instinct created and reinforced sexual interests.

The men did not necessarily act in those ways or have those feelings because they were in power, but they got away with their bad behavior for extended periods of time with multiple women in too many settings, because their relative power put pressure on the women to either go along or simply not protest the behavior by the men.

The lack of situational power created the response from many of the women. Men used the existence of situational power as a tool to further their sexual interests.

Those realities and behaviors can now change to an important degree for us as a country and a society because those very public stories of obvious intrusion and abuse are causing us to look collectively at those behaviors, and to decide through our responses which patterns of behavior we will find acceptable for the future of our society and nation.

This can be an historical moment. We are thinking about some of those issues openly and collectively for the first time as a society. That is a very good thing to do, and we need to hold on to the opportunity it creates.

If we take full advantage of this learning opportunity, we can and should intentionally create processes that support the values we want our society to follow and use. We can decide not to allow those levels of abuse to happen, and we can intentionally create and teach a culture in all settings where women feel very empowered and enabled, and where women are not at risk when either rejecting unwanted sexual advances or complaining about sexual harassment behaviors.

We need a culture in place where men and women who act in those intrusive ways feel clear, explicit, direct, and collective pressure against doing those kinds of coercive things to another person.

We need to activate all four of the safeguards. We need to expect higher levels of behavior from men. Men need to be more enlightened and ethically committed to the right behaviors in those settings. We need other people in our culture — from our political leaders to our educators, to our family members and faith leaders — to all preach and teach against abusive behaviors and actions — and we need our cultures to come forward easily in support of women and men who report abuse.

We all tend to internalize the values of our cultures, so we need our cultures to very explicitly expect higher and more enlightened behaviors from our men.

Part of that cultural expectation needs to include a clear understanding of what communications communicate both acceptance and rejection of sexual behaviors.

That can be done. We need to be very clear in doing it.

“Yes Means Yes” needs to be a mantra, a guideline, a rule, an understanding, and a commitment — and the only pathway to sexual interaction. We need everyone to know that responses other than Yes, are not Yes.

We need people to clearly understand that “No means No” in sexual situations and interactions.

We need our laws and our internal organizational rules in our work places, schools, and various settings to make wrong gender related behaviors illegal and subject to punishment for violations.

We also need to make retribution that does not physically harm other people be part of our acceptable package of response behaviors when the violations are clear, and when a member of our group has been damaged by inappropriate gender related abuse.

Our instincts never leave us. They are part of who we are, and they shape our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. We need to understand those realities. We need to steer ourselves individually and collectively so our best instincts blossom and our worst instincts wither.

We need to use our cultures in each setting as a tool for mutually supportive, respectful, and positive interactions and behaviors.   We can be led by our cultures or we can lead our cultures to have them become support tools for the lives we want to lead.

Sex is a good place to start to make that happen.

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This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding